Friday, July 20, 2007


What is the secret to happiness?

Our book club last night finished off a two-movie stint, watching 49UP, a documentary featuring British school children, first filmed 42 years ago at age seven, and every seven years (That biblical number!) after that to their current age of 49. It is really a fascinating documentary. We had earlier watched 28UP, which of course featured this group of people up to and including the age of 28.
One of the themes coming out now that these children have reached their half-century mark, is the theme of happiness. Over and over, happiness--however it was to be defined--was proclaimed as the highest goal in life.

Well, is it?

And what has the modern scientific age had to say about it?
If this article is to be believed, modern social science has swung and missed on the idea that the secret to happiness is to be yourself, do your own thing, live your own life, me, me, me, it is all about me. Navel gazing is starting to lose its appeal, as we Baby Boomers age and one thing after another leads to, at best, short term contentment. The Real Deal just keeps eluding folks.

You know modernism is a thing of the past when scientists are willing to look into the dim and distant past for advice and guidance on how to solve modern problems. Yet here are two psychologists writing about Aristotelian virtue as the secret to happiness. And not just virtue, but virtue plugged into a clinical situation.

Virtue, mind you, not values. And what do they mean by virtue? The two scientists, Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson, list the seven "umbrella" virtues as:
Wisdom, Courage, Justice, Temperance, Humanity, and Transcendence.

It occurred to me that the apostle Paul had some things to say about virtue as the secret to...righteous living. Galatians 5:22. At the end of a long list of nonvirtues--carousing, sorcery, jealousy and more--he spoke of the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness. I daresay these are the secret to happiness. As I watched 49UP again last evening, I kept being struck by how far from true joy was the happiness being sought by the aging British school children.

Well, read the article and tell me what you think.

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